Simon Bridges questions if anti-Semitism behind New Zealand's absence from Holocaust memorial

Simon Bridges is questioning if anti-Semitism is behind the Government failing to send a senior representative to a high-profile Holocaust memorial in Israel.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem held the World Holocaust Forum last week to mark 75 years since the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz - but no New Zealand officials attended.

Bridges, leader of the Opposition, said he would "like to be generous and say it's incompetence" that led to the Government's failure to send someone - but he said he couldn't help but notice a rise in global anti-Semitism.

"You look at the Labour Party in the UK - they have had very significant problems with anti-Semitism," Bridges told Magic Talk. "I hope none of that is part of the Labour Party's calculus - that has no place in New Zealand society."

The UK's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn - who is standing down after failing to win the recent election - has been bogged down by allegations of anti-Semitic sentiment, with several members of his party resigning over of it.

Bridges said he regrets that, under the previous National-led Government, New Zealand signed a United Nations resolution that deemed Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory to be illegal.

"I've been pretty blunt about that - that didn't come to Cabinet. If it had, I can't say for certain, but I feel pretty sure it would have been a different result," Bridges said. "It was the Foreign Minister who now accepts he didn't bring it to Cabinet - he should have."

Former National MP Murray McCully was Foreign Minister at the time, when New Zealand was an elected member of the United Nations Security Council from 2015-2016.

McCully said in early 2017 New Zealand signed the resolution against the Israeli settlements "because it was consistent with long-held New Zealand policy positions on the Palestinian question".  

The resolution was adopted with 14 members of the Security Council voting in favour and the United States abstaining. The Security Council chamber broke into rare applause following the vote.

Bridges said he thinks the "wrong decision" was made.

New Zealand First's coalition agreement with Labour includes recording a Cabinet minute "regarding the lack of process followed prior to the National-led government's sponsorship" of New Zealand supporting the UN resolution. 

Bridges emphasised how "wrong" it was that New Zealand didn't send a representative to the memorial in Israel, echoing his foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee who last week described it as "disgraceful".

"I think it's absolutely wrong that they haven't sent anyone," Bridges said. "They couldn't find one person from Governor-General to Speaker through ministers or even a senior MP who's not a minister... It's bad."

Brownlee has refused to accept excuses by Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters and senior New Zealand officials for why they did not attend the memorial.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said Peters' office was advised of the invitation just a week before, and admitted it "should have been provided it to his office much earlier", having received it back in September.

A spokesperson for Peters said he was "made aware of the invitation on the 16th January 2020, at which point all efforts were made to arrange the attendance of the Speaker. However, this was unfortunately not possible".

The Speaker was packed and ready to attend the event as a senior representative of New Zealand, since neither Peters nor Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy were able to attend.

But Mallard's office said he wasn't able to attend at the last minute due to "security concerns".

Brownlee said it's "completely unacceptable" New Zealand didn't send a representative to the memorial this year when it was attended by US Vice President Mike Pence and Prince Charles. 

"We've been very prominent around the Christchurch Call - greater tolerance, greater understanding... This should have been something we were at."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will deliver a speech on Monday evening in Auckland for the United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day.